Sometimes the best way to explore a new destination is to experience it like a local. Simply knowing a particular spot is popular among those who live in the community gives it credibility, a certain je nes sais quoi. If locals like the place, it has to be good, right?
We’ve know a lot of places like that in Wine Country. And after the horrible fires that blew through Napa and Sonoma in October, some of those places aren’t seeing the same kind of crowds they typically see this time of year. As such, we thought it’d be a great time to share some of our favorite local spots. Consider these our highest recommendations for your next visit to our neck of the woods.
Formerly known as Taylor’s Refresher, this St. Helena institution has been serving up burgers, fries, and milkshakes since 1949. Today’s menu features a host of healthier options, including ahi poke, salads, and more. More than anything, we love the wine list at Gott’s—it features many of our local favorites. Of course, nothing pairs better than sweet potato fries with a nice glass of cabernet.
This multifaceted shop in the heart of Healdsburg bills itself as a “modern grange,” and we love it for how eclectic the whole place is. There’s an organic produce stand, a larder, a mill, a coffee bar, a housewares department, and a garden supply. At the on-site restaurant, Chef Perry Hoffman cranks out award-winning food that incorporates some of the yummy ingredients from elsewhere in the store. At the bar, fermentation specialists brew their own kombucha, which is worth a try. Upstairs, a spacious event center is the backdrop for local lectures, fundraisers, and concerts. Check the calendar for listings before you go.
From Highway 12/121, the Fremont Diner looks like any other roadside dive. Inside, however, the food is a revelation. Biscuits that fall apart in your hands. Fried chicken that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Pulled pork that punches your mouth with flavor. For an interactive experience, sit at the counter inside and watch as chefs make the iconic house-made waffles. If you’re visiting with a large group, grab a picnic table under the tent and heat lamps outside.
Wine Country has been slow to adopt the barbecue trend, but Buster’s, in downtown Calistoga, has been cranking out ribs, sausages, and pork shoulder for decades. The décor here is nondescript; some might go so far as to describe the place as nothing more than an enclosed picnic shelter. But when you’re scarfing down beans or licking your fingers after your first rack of ribs, you won’t care what the place looks like.
Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood is famous for its eclectic culture, and this ice cream shop does not disappoint. Even in winter, locals line up out the door for paletas, or homemade popsicles. Cream-based flavors include coffee and Oreo; for a taste of Mexico, try the guanabana or the mamey.
El Molino Central
This upscale hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Boyes Hot Springs is famous for its tamales, which are available daily starting around lunch time. Locals also love the chilaquiles—an egg scramble with chorizo and tortilla strips. Get there before traditional busy times to grab a picnic table out back.